Israeli Films at Cannes Use Rage, Subtlety to Portray Conflict

Directors Avi Mograbi, Amos Gitai have made quite different films, but both were shot against backdrop of intifada.

CANNES, France - A movie that entwines the plight of Palestinians and extreme expressions of vengeance by ultranationalist Israelis silenced a packed cinema at the Cannes Film Festival.

As Israeli director Avi Mograbi was showing his powerful but one-sided documentary, his countryman Amos Gitai served up a less impassioned view of the Middle East conflict, a road movie starring Natalie Portman.

Both films were shot against the backdrop of the intifada, which fuelled fresh hatred as Israel tightened its chokehold over Palestinian areas in the face of the deadliest Palestinian suicide bombing campaign in its history.

Gitai's "Free Zone," screened as part of the main competition late on Wednesday, is a restrained study of the issues of borders and how they affect ordinary people on both sides of the Middle East divide.

"Not every film should be about rage," Gitai says in his production notes.

Mograbi might not agree judging from his film "Avenge But One of My Eyes," a phrase taken from the words of the biblical Samson as he brings down the Philistine temple on himself and a jeering crowd in an act of desperate suicide.

"Our aim is to show the truth the way we see it," he told Reuters after the screening.

At one point the cameraman filming Israeli soldiers as they refuse to open a gate to Palestinian children trying to get home from school rails against the troops.

"You worthless bunch," he shouts. "What hole did you crawl from?"

In his portrayal of life for Palestinians, Mograbi showed that just going to visit friends and families can involve hours of waiting.

"What can I tell you, I'm sick of life," says one elderly woman who has been waiting in the sun for four hours. "It's better to die. It's better to be in a grave."

He juxtaposes the suffering of Palestinians with footage of Israelis being fed a diet of ultranationalist ideology.

In one scene, dozens of supporters of the slain Rabbi Meir Kahane, the leader of an extreme right-wing organization outlawed by Israel, work themselves into a frenzy as they listen to a rock band singing a song based on Samson's words.

"Avenge but one of my two eyes upon Palestine!" they shout. "Revenge!"

In "Free Zone," Gitai's message is more understated.

He casts Portman as an American living in Jerusalem who has just broken off her engagement. She embarks on a journey that brings her together with an Israeli and a Palestinian.

Gitai said it was the first Israeli film shot in Jordan and had the blessing of the royal family there.

"Initially ... there was a kind of resistance between the Israeli and Jordanian crews," he said. "But this melted down after only a few hours and relations became very warm."

And yet the seemingly endless Middle East conflict is not forgotten.

The voice of Chava Alberstein sings during the opening sequences of the film:

"How long will this hellish circle last? ... That of the oppressor and the oppressed, Of the executioner and the victim How long will this madness last?"